Is there a Link Between Social Computing and Business Networks?

January 22, 2008

Is there a Link Between Social Computing and Business Networks?

While there were many interesting product announcements at Lotusphere, I was intrigued by some of the innovations and experimentation in collaboration. One example is a project that comes out of a IBM research. I attended an interesting talk by Irene Greif, IBM Fellow and Director, of and Joan DiMicco, Research Staff Member of the Collaborative User Experience Group. Their session focused on the future of gaining business value from social computing. This is a very interesting group within IBM combining software designers, developers, computer and social scientists.

The focus of this talk centered on collaborative visualization. In other words, how do you combine some of the interesting technologies from virtual worlds (like Second Life). This work has been going on within IBM for the past several years. Now, IBM research is working to apply this virtual world technology to social computing and the way people collaborate in the business world. How can you create the same level of collaboration in a virtual world that happens when people are co-located? Indeed with so many companies creating collaborations across the globe.

One of the interesting project profiled during the session is called Beehive. In essence, this is a social computing system intended to make it fun to keep profiles updated. Rather than focusing on the public facing sites like FaceBook, Beehives is an intranet focused social network. In general, the more you know about people, the more you trust those people. So, if you apply this to the business world, what happens? The theory is that within a safe (i.e., not exposed to the entire Internet) environment the more connected you are with colleagues the more likely you are to trust those people and therefore collaborate more effectively. This is what this group is focused on understanding.


With the Beehive project, the users choose to join. Users establish their own categories for what they want to share with their colleagues — what Irene and Joan call “soft branding”. Users might decide to share everything from family photographs, lists of ideas, and comments on technical topics. The goal with Beehive is to create a destination site for conversation and collaboration. So far the experiment has been running for about eight months with very positive results. So far 6500 people from within IBM have created profiles that are a blend of personal and professional content. Because Beehive is an Intranet based social network, it provides a safe environment for IBMers to share opinions about emerging technologies and product evolution.

It will be interesting to watch the progress of projects like Beehive. Bringing the innovation of the virtual world together with an expert virtual network could have dramatic implications for businesses looking to innovate in tough economic times.



About Judith Hurwitz

Judith Hurwitz is an author, speaker and business technology consultant with decades of experience.

  1. Judith,
    Great blog entry about professional networking tools that are specifically designed to leverage collaboration… Internal professional networking is a sleeping giant of the professional networking space. Tools like Beehive are designed for traditionally underserved knowledge management activities within an organization. This is the beginning of an important trend. Companies are just starting to truly use collaboration tools to support business processes, open the conversation across inter-company heiarchy, surface cross team collaboration points, and when they do they will emerge stronger, smarter and more competitively agile.

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  3. Combining virtual reality (VR) environments (like Second Life) with Beehive-like communities is a logic evolution. For example, senior management believes that there is a need for training in “X.” They need to validate their belief.
    1) They mine the data in a Beehive-like community: who already has expertise in X? what business roles align to X? and so on.
    2) Data is analyzed and their belief is validated.
    3) Beehive-like community is invited to comment on X training. Based on feedback, senior management discover that customized X training is more suitable. (Beehive-like community, in effect, has created the curriculum.)
    4) Customized X training held in VR classroom, which integrates chat, private IM, voice, slide presentation, etc. (all available in Second Life today).
    5) A log of VR classroom communication and materials becomes a resource in the Beehive-like community. Others add materials to it. The VR room is left open so that people can informally meet to refine and build processes resulting from the customized X training.
    – and so on…

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